West Ham are plotting letting Pablo Zabaleta go and not replacing him due to the surprise emergence of defender Jeremy Ngakia, Football Insider has learned.
The right-back, 19, made an instant and strong impression in the Hammers side since being promoted by David Moyes from the Under-23s at the end of January.
A West Ham source has told Football Insider that Zabaleta will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, with neither party looking to extend his deal.
The London club made a concerted pursuit of a new right-back in January.
They had a £12million bid for Matty Cash rejected by Nottingham Forest and also tabled offers for Salzburg’s Rasmus Kristensen and Genk’s Joakim Maehle as well as showing an interest in Toulouse’s Kelvin Amian Adou.
But football’s changed economics due to the coronavirus pandemic mean David Moyes won’t have much cash to play with in the upcoming window.
That could mean 19-year-old Ngakia providing competition for Ryan Fredericks next season rather than a new signing, as had originally been planned.
As revealed by Football Insider, the Hammers youth-team coaches were unsure about Ngakia a season or two ago and he was almost released.
But Moyes’ faith in the teenager has been fully justified, most markedly when he twice held his own against Player of the Year contender Sadio Mane,
The teenager has made four league starts, including in the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal shortly before the Premier League was suspended.
Zabaleta secured a 12-month contract extension at the end of last season but he has been far more on the fringes in this campaign.
Before football’s suspension, he had slipped to third in the Hammers’ right-back pecking order behind Ngakia and the injured Ryan Fredericks.
In other West Ham news, it can be REVEALED that the club’s coaches have been stunned by amazing teenager emergence.